Japanese auteur Mitsuo Yanagimachi, who scored success on the fest circuit with his early dramatic features, “A 19 Year Old’s Plan” and “Farewell to the Land,” has become fascinated with the culture of China; “The Wandering Peddlers” is the third consecutive film he’s made on a Chinese theme, after “Shadow of China” and “About Love Tokyo.” This time he and his crew went to Taiwan where they filmed, in loose[7mcinema verite[22;27m style, a number of medicine peddlers, or [7m paojiang-hu,[22;27m who still travel the country selling their wares and entertaining small-town audiences.
Resulting pic blurs the line between documentary and fiction as Yanagimachi explores the lives of a couple of groups of peddlers, and they appear to act out their personal dramas for the camera. Pic is a bit on the long side, but should find a niche at festivals, with specialized TV bookings also indicated.
The Ye family, led by old Tianshuang, entertain prospective customers with fire-eating and juggling displays before selling their snake oil. Business is declining, and Tian-shuang’s son, A-Hong, isn’t sure whether he should find another line of business. His girlfriend, A-Ling, is a feisty young woman who doesn’t let him get away with anything.
Then there’s A-Ming, who warms up his customers with an act in which he confronts three cobras, allowing himself to be hitten every night. He shows his scars and plays with, washes and feeds his dangerous pets.
Yanagimachi clearly loves these eccentric characters whose world is gradually coming to an end. “The Wandering Peddlers” is an affectionate tribute to a dying lifestyle, and to a hunch of tenacious practitioners of a very curious branch of show business.